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You Can Go Home Again After All

By Brian Panowich

This month’s issue of the magazine is about homes and gardens—two things I don’t have a whole lot of experience with. So I’m going to take you in another direction as to what home means to me and talk about something I do have a little experience with—music.

I’m a military brat and so the concept of home was really never something I could ever fully get my head around. Until my father retired from the Army here in Augusta when I was 12 years old, I didn’t really have a family home, or a room I grew up in, or life-long friends for that matter. All that changed of course once my family settled in The Garden City, but until then, my home had always been in my head and in my music.

Let me explain. 

Illustration by Kat McCall
Illustration by Kat McCall

The first record I ever bought for myself was Van Halen’s “Fair Warning.” It scared the heck out of my mother and it was fun to see the gleam in my father’s eye as he watched his son discover something that would soon alter the rest of his life. Eddie Van Halen and his band didn’t call that album “Fair Warning” for nothing. It was all about excess and debauchery and all the stuff my mother had hoped to shield me from forever, but from that point on, it was off to the races. “Fair Warning” served as my gateway drug, leading me to my current state of being a hopeless musical addict, or as I like to think of myself, a musical explorer. I dig through copious amounts of rehashed material in search of my next obsession. I can never settle on default favorites. Sure, there are bands I love, and songs that I can compile into lists I consider to be the best stuff ever written, but I have a burning need to discover something new and challenging on par with my need to breathe, or eat. It gives purpose to my free time and more often than not zaps my not-so-free time.

I spent a lot of time in my youth trying to make music. Armed with three chords and the truth, I tried to channel the storytelling of Bruce Springsteen with the utter cool of Joey Ramone and the results were less than stellar. There’s a reason why those guys are who they are, but still, I did my best. I used music as a way to pay the bills and separate myself from the herd. I called it a badge of honor back then, but realize now that it was more like a protective barrier that kept me safe from the frightening world of adulthood. I liked being Peter Pan and I liked the heft of a telecaster. It was a good life. It was home.

But everyone has to grow up at some point.

In the second act of my life, I find my musical taste somewhere between Jennings and Jones. It was a natural progression for me, like father like son, from the punch-in-the-face of rock-and-roll to the snide swagger of Americana and country.

Son Volt, The Drive-By Truckers, and similar artists, serve as the soundtrack to my current incarnation as a writer and I’ve found that I don’t need music as a shield anymore. My skin is thick and worn now, so my music is more akin to a comfortable chair. A small piece of the universe I can sink into that exists just for me. It brings me home, a home as real as any brick and mortar house or memory of one.

The playlist of my life is vast and the way a certain song can transport you through time and space to a place in your mind that will always be a part of you is how I relate to being home. I think everyone does. So, every now and then I revisit that Van Halen album where it all first began for me and I pull it out of the sleeve and listen. The vinyl pops under the needle and just for a second I get just a brief glimpse of that little kid who thought his dad was made of steel and that girls were made of stars. But mostly I think about the guy who said, “You can never go home again.” And I shake my head at just how wrong he was.